Hello, I’m Cristi Bundukamara, and today, I want to share with you a deeply personal experience that has shaped my life profoundly – the death anniversary of my beloved son, Reggie. As I recount this painful journey, I hope to offer you three essential tips that have helped me navigate seven long years of grief while also assisting others facing similar challenges.
Reggie's Birth and Early Life
Reggie was born on May 5th, 1999, and he was perfect – healthy and happy with no medical issues. He was what some might call a “difficult” child – never sleeping through the night, always active. Still, everything about him was entirely normal. In those early years, he achieved physical milestones ahead of schedule, such as swimming by age two and riding a bike. There was no reason to suspect any underlying problems.
The First Signs of Trouble
However, as Reggie entered pre-K, concerns began to surface. Teachers repeatedly noted that he couldn’t sit still, hindering his ability to learn. We embarked on a journey of doctor’s appointments and evaluations, eventually leading to a diagnosis of ADHD. But as time went on, the gap between Reggie’s development and his peers grew wider. What was once seen as inattention became a deeper issue – he simply wasn’t learning and progressing as he should.
The Start of Catastrophic Epilepsy
I vividly recall the first time I heard that noise – December 24th, 2006. It was a Christmas party, and suddenly, everything went silent. I heard someone screaming my name, and as I rushed to the scene, I found Reggie on the floor, in the midst of a seizure. That distinctive noise haunted me. I, a nurse, went into “nurse mode,” and we got him to the hospital. Little did I know that day marked the beginning of a traumatic journey through catastrophic epilepsy. Reggie’s seizures became increasingly severe, sometimes reaching up to 12 grand mal seizures in a single day.
One day, while at the doctor’s office for IV therapy, Reggie experienced a seizure, and I, once again, went into my nurse mode to care for him. But this time, tragedy struck. His femur, the strongest bone in his body, snapped in half. I share this traumatic experience not to traumatize others but to convey the intense pain and challenges I have faced.
The Day Everything Changed
October 30th, 2016, was not an entirely unusual day for us. Reggie’s health was deteriorating, and his oxygen levels were low. However, we had all the necessary medical equipment at home to care for him, and that’s what I did. Sometimes, I blame myself for not rushing him to the emergency room that day, but I’ve learned that processing guilt is part of the healing process. When I finally realized he needed hospitalization, I called 911. Yet, even then, I didn’t comprehend the magnitude of what was unfolding. I watched, almost detached, as paramedics performed CPR. And when they asked if they could stop, I couldn’t even find the words to respond.
Three Vital Tips for Coping with Grief
Now, seven years later, I want to share three crucial tips for those enduring the pain of losing a child, particularly on death anniversaries:
- Don’t Give Up:
The pain can be overwhelming, and it may even make you question the value of your own life. But please, don’t give up. Grieving this kind of loss is complex and challenging, but if I can find a way forward, so can you.
- Allow Yourself to Feel the Pain:
Grief is a journey filled with painful milestones, such as anniversaries and holidays. It’s essential to acknowledge and embrace this pain. Today, I begin my annual 45 days of grief, where I give myself permission to feel the pain fully.
- Address Spiritual Conflict:
Whether you believe in a higher power or not, there is something beyond this life. Addressing your spiritual conflict and exploring your beliefs can be a profound part of the healing process. Don’t shy away from it, even if it includes anger or doubt.
I’m Cristi Bundukamara, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, and unfortunately, an expert in grief. I’ve embarked on my second round of 45 days of grief, and I’m here to offer practical advice on navigating this painful journey. I encourage you to watch my videos, both from this year and last year, as we embrace the journey of learning to grieve while cherishing the memories of our loved ones. Remember, you’re not alone in this, and there is a path forward, even through the darkest of times.